Reel Travel

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 04 2009 1:00 AM ET

I often get guff from traveling companions because I like to go to the movies when I'm on vacation. "We're in Maui," my now-ex-boyfriend once scoffed, "and you want to go sit in a dark room and watch Casino Royale ?" Yes, I do. So there.

So it's no surprise that my favorite getaways often revolve around gay film festivals. They're a magical mix of three things I love: movies, travel, and gays. I've done festivals as a volunteer, a filmmaker, a journalist, and a regular patron, and, like watching Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" video, it never seems to get old. You can have my gay film festival lanyard when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

The love affair began in the early 1990s, when I signed up to volunteer at Outfest in my hometown of Los Angeles. It seemed like a great way to meet nice, smart, potentially datable guys. A favorite memory involves stealing kisses with a fellow volunteer in a storeroom at Outfest's main venue, the Directors Guild theater complex in West Hollywood, while unpacking promotional teddy bears for RSVP cruises. Fluffing those plush bears was to us what working that pottery wheel was to Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost . And just like Swayze's character in Ghost , the guy vanished into thin air not long afterward. Still, I'm a big proponent of film-fest flirtation because you always have an opening line: "Seen any full-frontal nudity lately? Want to?"

Since that first volunteer stint, Outfest has been my favorite time of the year -- like Christmas, but instead of Santa you've got Bruce Vilanch hosting the big award show. Luckily, Outfest doesn't expect monogamy. In the last few years I've built trips around festivals in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, and Austin. In Miami, the screenings are held just a few blocks from the gay beach, which comes in handy if a movie's a real downer, like say last year's Julianne Moore gut-churner Savage Grace . You can walk right into the ocean, never to be heard from again.

Festival screenings are often held in venues that are rich in history and spectacular in design, like the Castro Theatre in San Francisco (recently seen in Milk ) and L.A.'s Orpheum, home of Outfest's star-studded opening-night blowout. This recently restored vaudeville-era movie palace hosted Judy Garland when she was still one of the Gumm Sisters: Talk about gay-icon history.

Film festivals also offer a chance to meet the kinds of locals who might not hang out at bars and dance clubs. If you're lucky, you might be able to charm one into showing you the sights. I bonded with some Austinites at last year's Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival and ended up enjoying a dip at the Barton Springs swimming hole before rushing back, hair still wet, to catch my next screening.

To date, my LGBT festival-going has consisted mainly of the biggies, but this year I hope to hit some offbeat fests like Fresno, Calif.'s Reel Pride festival, the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, and the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the natural beauty and crowd enthusiasm more than compensate for the fact that Ted Haggard could be sitting right next to you. There are also a lot of niche fests popping up that sound intriguing, like the Vermont Bear Film Festival ( "and the lifetime achievement award goes to…Sean Connery!" ), Tranny Fest in San Francisco, and Austin's OUTer Gay and Lesbian Science Fiction/Fantasy Film Festival, billing itself as "a journey into the imaginations of your fellow queer space cadets." Beam me up, Scotty, and pass the Milky Way.

Three Hot Gay Fests for 2009:

JUNE 18-28 Frameline: The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival The world's oldest queer film festival makes a great vacation stop as its headquarters is the Castro Theatre, right in the bustling heart of gayville. With a sexier and friskier vibe than most fests -- I love to suck…soda in the dark read one of last year's T-shirts -- Frameline's massive audiences are nothing if not passionate. When the crowd at the Castro goes nuts for a movie, it's a glorious place to be. ( Frameline.org )

JULY 9-19 Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Like homecoming week for gay Los Angeles, Outfest makes the most of its Hollywood setting with lots of celebrity cameos, industry panels, and one-off events like the outrageous Home Video Gong Show. Make sure to catch an outdoor screening at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. If the stars on-screen aren't doing it for you, just look up in the sky. ( Outfest.org )

JULY 9-19 Philadelphia QFest The Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival may have a punchy new name and website, but it still offers the largest LGBT film event on the East Coast. The City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) makes it easy for gay travelers, as all screenings are held within walking distance of the city's queer bars and restaurants. ( QFest.com )